Word of the Day / Mamad: Where to Go When the Rocket Siren Sounds?

If you’re seeking shelter when the siren shrieks, a mamad is the place to go. But afterward, if what you really need is a prayer, well, the other kind of mamad will also do the job.

National Archives

As Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets from Gaza -- on the south, on Tel Aviv and even on the Jerusalem area, which until very recently was thought virtually impervious to rocket fire because of the city’s sanctity and large Arab population -- one of the uppermost thoughts on the minds of many Israelis is: Where do I go if I hear a siren?

For those lucky enough to be in a home built after 1992, when the alert sounds, you don’t have to worry about rushing off to find a miklat (shelter) or at least an indoor stairwell. You just head over to your mamad, the Hebrew acronym referring to a room with reinforced concrete walls and ceiling that serves as a home bomb shelter. Some WD-40 may be needed to close the heavy metal door and window shutters. “Mamad” stands for “merhav mugan dirati,” which means “apartment protected space,” since most Israelis live in apartment buildings.

Since Israelis typically don’t have an entire room in their homes to leave empty in anticipation of a possible rocket attack, the mamad often has other uses as well: as an unofficial mahsan (storeroom), or a playroom, study or bedroom. And that’s fine, as long as there’s enough room for the people living in the apartment to squeeze in, too.

You aren’t likely to hear anyone use the full name for this safe space; it’s generally referred to as a mamad or a “heder mamad,” meaning “mamad room.” But a mamad school (“beit sefer mamad”) is something else entirely: not a place where contractors receive training on how to build a bomb shelter, but a state-run religious school, with the acronym in this case standing for “mamlakhti dati” or “state-religious” -- the kind of school that sounds like an oxymoron in U.S. terms but is part of a full-fledged public school system in Israel.

The bottom line, I guess, is this: Run into a mamad room if you’re seeking shelter. But if you’re hoping to get by on a wing and a prayer, a mamad school may be just the place to go.